The Service of the Word makes a transition from prayer and praise to the hearing of God’s Word. The bestowal of God’s grace, which was announced in the Introit and prayed for in the Collect, will now take place in the reading and preaching of God’s Word. The reading of Scripture in the Divine Service is testimony of our high view of the Bible’s inspiration and authority. God’s Word shapes, forms, and norms what we say and do. Reading God’s Word, and the preaching that is governed by these Scriptures, is the high point for the Service of the Word.
So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.
Wherever God’s Word is, there our Lord has promised to be (Matthew 18:20).
Our service follows a simple pattern for the hearing of God’s Word then responding with thanksgiving and praise. Typically the readings for the Divine Service are one from the Old Testament, one from an apostolic letter (Epistle), and one from a Gospel. In a real sense, the readings from the Old Testament and an Epistle lead to and find their fulfillment in the Gospel. In this way, the first two readings function like John the Baptist preparing us to hear in repentance and faith the gracious voice of Christ. Origen, an early Christian, called the Holy Gospel the “crown of all Holy Scripture.”
The Word of God comes to us through His Scriptures with power to deliver what He promises. They do this by not only telling us about Jesus but also by giving us Jesus, who was crucified for our sins and raised to life for our justification. Through the reading and the preaching of His Scripture, God is at work creating faith, bestowing His peace in the forgiveness of sins, strengthening His people in their struggle against sin, and nurturing the hope of everlasting life.
As Jesus came to us in the lowliness of our flesh in His incarnation, so now He comes to us in human words. Through these words, God himself is at work to “make [us] wise for salvation” (2 Timothy 3:15). The Word of God is the Word of life.
Old Testament Reading and Epistle
And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, [Jesus] interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.
The first reading is typically from the Old Testament. Through the recorded history of Israel and the words of the prophets, we are taught God’s work of salvation in the Old Testament. There we hear the prophecies of the Messiah who would come to men that all people might once again be brought back to God. The Old Testament Reading prepares us to hear the Holy Gospel, which is the fulfillment of the prophecies and promises made in the Old Testament.
This is the Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.
Hearing the Word of God, the people respond with words of praise. The Gradual is a portion of a psalm or other Scripture passage that provides a response after the Old Testament Reading. It is a proper selected to help the hearer reflect on the reading in context with the theme of the day or the season of the Church Year. It also serves as a bridge between the first reading and the Epistle that follows.
2 Timothy 3:16–17
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.
The Epistle, a reading from a New Testament letter, gives us God’s counsel on how His gracious Word is applied to the hearer and the Church. Often in this reading we hear how God’s Word accomplishes what it says—creating faith, bestowing forgiveness, strengthening God’s people in their struggles against sin, and enlivening in them the hope of eternal life.
This is the Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.
Like the Gradual, the Alleluia and Verseprovide a transition between the readings. The word alleluia is Hebrew for “praise the Lord.” The Verse prepares us to meet the Christ of God in His Word, hearing of His life, ministry, death, and resurrection for the salvation of all.
Alleluia. Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.
Simon Peter answered [Jesus], “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
The Holy Gospel according to St. ___________, the ________chapter.
Glory to You, O Lord.
The Holy Gospel always contains the very words or deeds of Jesus. This makes the reading of the Holy Gospel the summit of the Service of the Word, and we recognize this by surrounding our Savior’s words with songs of glory and praise and by standing to receive His gracious words.
This is the Gospel of the Lord.
Praise to You, O Christ.
The Holy Gospel is seen as the summit of the Service of the Word, and that fact is acknowledged with the acclamation of glory and praise. Often, the congregation will stand during the reading of the Gospel in honor of the gracious Word of Christ that is being proclaimed before it. In His speaking in and through the Scripture, God is serving His people. From His words we receive life and we receive salvation.
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
Next: Hymns and the Sermon